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COVID-19 – UN Urges World Leaders to Act Now to Avert ‘Unimaginable Devastation’

COVID-19 has resulted in hunger and famine at historic proportions, with some 60 million people pushed into extreme poverty and half the global workforce -- 1.6 billion people -- left without work, and $8.5 trillion in global output lost. The setback in attaining the sustainable development goals (SDGs) has been tremendous and unless global leaders act now, the devastation will be unimaginable. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

COVID-19 has resulted in hunger and famine at historic proportions, with some 60 million people pushed into extreme poverty and half the global workforce -- 1.6 billion people -- left without work, and $8.5 trillion in global output lost. The setback in attaining the sustainable development goals (SDGs) has been tremendous and unless global leaders act now, the devastation will be unimaginable. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

UNITED NATIONS, May 29 2020 (IPS) - Unless global leaders act now, the COVID-19 pandemic will cause unimaginable suffering and devastation around the world, the Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres said yesterday, May 28. He painted a picture of hunger and famine at historic proportions, with some 60 million people pushed into extreme poverty and half the global workforce — 1.6 billion people — left without work, and $8.5 trillion in global output lost. 

Guterres was speaking at an online event as world leaders and economists gathered at a high-level meeting to call for global solidarity and an acute focus on the interest of developing countries in the next steps for reviving the declining global economy. 

The talk, which focused on generating solutions to the development emergency resulting from the global pandemic, was co-convened by the U.N. Secretary-General, Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

All three leaders highlighted the need to keep the concerns of developing and underdeveloped countries as a priority in the decision-making process. 

Guterres laid out six key areas of focus that need to be addressed going forward: 

  • enhance global liquidity;
  • preventing debt crises; 
  • engaging with private creditors on joint debt relief efforts; 
  • global financial systems and sustainable development goals; 
  • putting an end to illicit financial flows; and 
  • rebuilding in improved manners.

“Many developing and even middle-income countries are highly vulnerable and already in debt distress – or will soon become so, due to the global recession,” Guterres said, adding that alleviating debt should be considered for middle-income countries in addition to Least Developed Countries.  

The Secretary-General further lauded the preparedness shown by the Caribbean and Pacific islands’ “early and decisive action” that ensured them protection from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Holness highlighted the need for a “large-scale, comprehensive multilateral effort” to address the financial fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We are determined to support countries, particularly those most in need,” Holness said. “Our goal is to not only relieve the hardship they are currently experiencing, but to enable them to recover better.”

Trudeau echoed the same thoughts, and echoed the notion that keeping intact the economies of developed countries are beneficial for developing countries who may depend on them. 

“Our citizens need to have confidence in international institutions that leave no one behind and are capable of overcoming global challenges,” Trudeau said. “We know that jobs and businesses in each of our countries depend on the health and stability of economies elsewhere.”

David Malpass, President of the World Bank Group, pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown of developed economies will result in poverty for 60 million people, highlighting issues such as reduced incomes for migrant workers and a drop in remittance flows. 

“Wide spillover from the pandemic and the shutdown in advanced economies hit the poor and vulnerable, women, children, and healthcare workers hardest, deepening the inequality from the lack of development and making the health crisis even worse.” 

He announced a “milestone” they reached last week, having approved their emergency health operations which is now running in over 100 developing countries embedded in this programme and framework for finance.

Going forward, he said, the team is taking up new support programmes that “in coming weeks will help developing countries overcome the pandemic and reclaim focus on growth and sustainable development”. 

Dr Donald Kaberuka, Special Envoy from the African Union, who also spoke at a panel afterwards, warned against the world resorting to an individualistic approach as they reel from the economic collapse of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“After the global financial crisis, every country went back to address their own problems. Global solidarity declined very quickly,” Kaberuka said. “We can’t afford to let this happen this time.”

Holness further announced that the next step will bring together the government, international financial institutions and other key actors, to play their role: to create a plan based on the issues discussed at the high-level meeting, to report back to their co-conveners three times over the course of the rest of the year. 

 

 
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